Friday, April 15, 2005

Back from Spain / Ireland!

Well, two weeks have flown by. And rightly so, as I have been in near constant motion with my family (mother, father, and sister; no brother on this trip) first walking the crowded streets and squares of Barcelona and then driving the narrow roads of south-west Ireland.

Here is my mother (Ronnie), sister (Eve), and father (Patrick), in the Plaza de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain. Here the pigeons would literally land on people's hands, arms, heads, etc for food. Behind my mother is the entrance to La Ramblas, a long walking-mall which is central to a lot of the life of Barcelona. We rented an apartment a half-block from the center of La Ramblas.

family in Barcelona's Plaza de Catalunya

Here's a link to a nice map of the city (en Español) You'll see that we were quite close to pretty much everything of interest in the city, including the waterfront. Must see in Barcelona is" La Sagrada Familia," an enormous cathedral designed by the late Antoni Gaudi (en Español).

We arrived Monday afternoon and only had until Saturday, so we stuck around the city and did almost all of our travel on foot. Friday we did a bus-tour of the city, but it was cool and drizzly so that was not terribly exciting.

Saturday we arrived in Ireland, rented a car, and began our drive around the south coast of the country. Here we are on the north coast of the Dingle Peninsula.

family in on the Dingle Peninsula

Eventually I'll scan in our route/map. Here is someone else's for now though. The purple line to 'surfing beaches' is where we are in the photo above. We followed much of the same route as this map indicates, only in reverse direction, coming from Adare, north of here, through Castlegregory, and on to Dingle. We then headed south to the "Ring of Kerry" which here begins around Miltown and goes out on the Iveragh Peninsula, ending roughly at Killarney.

someone else's map of Dingle

Here's another map of the area:

another map of the area of south-west Ireland

And another photo, this one of the family passing over the middle of the Dingle Peninsula, at the top of the narrow pass, looking back over the surfing beaches that we had just visited:
family in on the Dingle Peninsula

All in all it was a wonderful trip. As you see it was a bit chilly in Ireland (to be expected in April), but it was sunnier than I had figured it would be. Driving in a foreign country is not for everyone - it can be a bit stressful - but with some practice our two drivers, Eve and Pat, managed to do very well (I did most of the navigating). We stayed the nights in Ireland in Bed and Breakfasts, of which there are thousands (probably a dozen in each of the even the smaller villages). A couple were pretty unremarkable, but others, like the convent house, were quite rich with character.

We visited three castles, including Blarney Castle where Eve and I climbed to the top and kissed the famous Blarney Stone.

The days were spent driving and sight-seeing, while the nights were spent playing Euchre, a team-based card game, in which Eve and I consistently beat the folks for successive Spanish, Irish, and finally English 'championships'.

Well, that should do it for the wrap-up of the vacation for now. I did have some minor philosophical and/or personal thoughts throughout the trip, however. One concerns the habit-pattern I have with my family as opposed to that around my friends, especially my international friends here in Bristol. Around them I am quite calm, listening, attentive, and so on, which is a way of being that I would like to extend throughout my life. Yet around my family I can too quickly become impatient, sharp, and difficult (a bit like a spoiled fifteen year old). It was interesting to try to step back and watch myself at various moments to see if/when I was 'reverting' to older habit patterns and when I was calmer and more attentive.

Philosophically... I was exposed to more crazy city-people - those people who are in perfect fashion, perfect make-up, talking on the cell phone in a hurried, anxious, irritated voice... And just wondered more about life, as it moves so quickly while we are often too preoccupied to notice it going. And how much of our pre-occupation is dictated by other people, bosses, professors, advertisers, politicians, and so on?

I wrote an essay last year arguing for a progressive approach to ethics, starting at utilitarian (pleasure vs pain), moving through virtue-ethics (chosen attributes to acquire and master) and ending in deontological/duty-based universal ethics (no more mastering/striving, just 'being fully'). It would seem that to the extend that our lives are dictated by others, we are pre-utilitarian; like a child. It is only with some moments of autonomy (making choices for ourselves) that we discover the pleasure and pain of which may follow. Hopefully we discover that the 'nearest pleasure' isn't always what we really want in life; ie. we could just lie around, eat, and have sex, but eventually this would become boring and we would want to take up more creative, expressive projects. Realizing this, slowly but surely we discover which virtues (humility, leadership, loyalty, friendship, intelligence/wisdom, caring, etc) seem to fit us and we strive to develop them in our personal and professional lives.

The most difficult move in the scheme, I would think, is from the development of one's own virtues, to the 'purely being' level. Here one has literally perfected his or her virtue, and now simply acts it out, lives it. Think of Einstein's mathematical wisdom or Mother Teresa's charity. There is no longer anxiety about whether one is 'doing it right' - one simply 'does' and this brings happiness, fulfillment, flourishing in the deepest sense. One is 'in the zone' or 'in the flow' of life on a full-time basis.

How many people will ever experience this? How many will even come close? Looking out over the busy city of Barcelona, with its hustle and bustle, I was pessimistic about these questions. How many people simply resign themselves to a life where choosing a bit of pleasure is all they can look forward to?

Developing a virtue is not easy. I have chosen wisdom/academia and often second-guess myself, most often when quick pleasure draws me away from these. But it is those moments of being in the flow that keep me going; those tastes of the ambrosia of flourishing; the sweetness that history's great men and women have talked about in poetry and prose, art and song.

Well, I should be off for now. Tomorrow I visit Oxford, which should be a very inspiring trip!

Best wishes, be happy, find a virtue (one that helps people)!


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